Court faults CS Ababu on selection of celebs

From left: Daniel Ndambuki, Dennis Itumbi, Azziad Nasenya, Carol Radull.

Photo credit: NMG

The High court has slammed the brakes on controversial appointments of showbiz stars and social media influencers to Talanta Hela, a State organ, as a storm continues to swirl around the initiative.

Earlier this week, Youth Affairs, Sports and Arts Cabinet Secretary Ababu Namwamba put up a spirited defense of the initiative in Parliament as it emerged that some officials at the Kenya Film Commission (KFC) feel slighted by the idea of propping up a parallel initiative viewed to be biting into KFC’s mandate.

Namwamba drew comparisons between his appointment of local entertainment stars and US President Joe Biden’s appointment of afro pop legend Lady Gaga and film producer Bruce Cohen as co-chairs of the President’s Arts and Humanities Committee tasked with promoting the Arts, the Humanities and Museum Library Services. 

In a 35-page document responding to questions before the National Assembly’s departmental Committee on Sports and Culture, the CS defended his appointments citing merit, influence in entertainment circles, and diversity.

However, this development has irked some players within the creative industry and legislators including Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei who a fortnight ago attacked the CS in the Senate.

“He finds time to interact with content creators on TikTok, they are good people but will not take this country forward? Where is football, athletics and volleyball? Why is the CS concerned so much about social media content creators and not traditional sports?” Cherargei posed.

“Instead of strengthening the already existing organs like KFC the CS forms another parallel one to do a similar job and appoints some people without tested experience to those positions. The government slashed KFC budget allocation [and] we received Sh300 million. It is too little to execute all the creative initiatives we have. Now I wonder, where will the Talanta Hela budget come from because constitutionally, there is no provision for such,” a senior head at KFC told Nation.

Talanta Hela’s technical creative committee chaired by seasoned comedian Daniel ‘Churchill’ Ndambuki consists of Akinyi Odongo, veteran radio presenter Jimmy Gathu, actress Catherine Kamau, singers Wahu Kagwi and Esther Akotheee, Tiktok star Azziad Nasenya, Kizito Makhande, Awadhi Salim Awadhi, Douglas Kipkurui and Langat Susan Ekasiba.

Sports technical committee is led by veteran sports journalist Carol Radull while the Council (board) is headed by former blogger Dennis Itumbi and includes the Principal Secretary of Youth Affairs and Arts, the Principal Secretary of the State Department of Basic Education, Principal Secretary of Sports and representatives from the Council of Governors as well as 22-year-old TV presenter Claudia Naisabwa.

On November 28 last year, a month after taking over the ministry, Mr Namwamba convened a National Creatives Summit to deliberate on issues affecting the creative sector, ranging from mismanagement of royalty collections by the Collective Management Organisation, proliferation of opportunists, and to address policy and legislative gaps.

Recommendations from the summit gave rise to what the CS termed as his ministry’s flagship project, The Talanta Hela initiative, which aims to monetise and commercialise talents in the sports and arts industries.

The initiative was approved by the Cabinet on December 6, 2022 and on February 10, 2023 it was ratified by President Ruto through a Gazette Notice.

On Monday, however, High Court judge Lawrence Mugambi temporarily suspended the establishment of Talanta Hela and its appointees until a petition by Charles Mugane is determined.

Despite the court orders suspending the programme as well as the appointments to two technical committees – one for sports and another for creatives and the Council – Mr Namwamba has vowed to push through with the initiative which he sees as noble.

Mugane moved to court in March citing legal and constitutional flaws in the establishment of Talanta Hela and accused Mr Namwamba of bias in the appointments.

The appointees in the Council and committees were appointed to serve for a term of three years.

But Mugane argues that the move was in breach of Article 10 of the Constitution which spells out the national values and principles of governance on public participation, transparency and accountability. He also wants the CS to address the issue of the budget allocation that will go into supporting the work of the Talanta Hela programme.

“Certainly no selection process has been shown of how the eleven were arrived at from the massive eight million Kenyans on TikTok platform where the appointees appear to have been drawn from. Your (Namwamba) actions above are in blatant disregard of the law which our client shall not countenance,” Mugane argued in court papers.

The heat over Talanta Hela appointees recently saw Namwamba questioned by the committee headed by Webuye West MP Dan Wanyama.

The committee sought to know the methodology used in the appointments of the council and its committee, and an explanation on the remittance of royalties to artists.

“Shed light on the alleged irregular appointment of the Talanta Hela Council and its committee and provide details of the form and the extent of public participation and interviews conducted before appointing members of the council and the committee,” Wanyama’s Committee demanded.

Even though there were no interviews or public participation carried out, Mr Namwamba, in his defense, said the appointments are a representation of Kenya’s diverse communities according to article 232 1 (h) and (i) of the Constitution which provides for the value and principles of public service.

“The appointments according to the Gazette Notice are of persons from diverse ethnic groups between the ages of 20 and 55 with extensive expertise in the sports and creative sectors,” Namwamba explained.

Giving examples of how some of the appointees were arrived at, the CS pointed out the case of Collins Kale who sits in the Sports committee.

“Mr Collins Kale from Homa Bay County was identified through the Ministry’s engagement with the county government of Homa Bay. Highly recommended by Homa Bay Governor Gladys Wanga, Mr Kale brings with him six years of experience in organising grassroots sports. Ms Claudia Leshomoo from Samburu County is only 22 years old but brings youthful verve and passion for content creation, media and pageantry. Awadhi Salim Awadhi brings passion and expertise in music production as does Rosemary Wahu Kagwi and Esther Akoth. Catherine Kamau is a top award winning actress while Akinyi Odongo OGW (Order of Grand Warrior) is Kenya’s leading fashion mogul. Deborah Mallowah is Coca-Cola Vice President for Eastern and Central Africa franchise bringing that crucial corporate connection,” the CS explained.

Mr Ababu insisted that the appointments considered “the abilities, skills, attributes and substantive expertise of the appointees vis-à-vis the terms of reference of their respective teams.”

On the tenure of office, the CS stated that the period of three years was not permanent but remains subject to review.

“Of note Honorable chair and Honorable members, the terms of the council and technical committees are temporary. These are not civil servants but rather technical experts in their respective fields engaged for specific time bound assignment, the key deliverables of the council and the committees are expected to inform policy interventions on specific areas outlined in the Gazette Notice,” the CS argued. 

The CS has said the formation of Talanta Hela will not affect the works of the other creative bodies already in place.

“Components of Talanta Hela are youth empowerment and strengthening of State institutions including recalibration of the Kenya Academy of Sports and the Arts, Kenya Film Commission and school, Kenya Cultural Commission and Theatre and the Permanent Presidential Music Commission (PPMC) to serve as the formal pipelines and hubs for nurturing and marketing talents. Talanta Hela seeks to strengthen not duplicate existing initiatives,” Mr Namwamba insisted.

For now, the CS will have to pause his mission. Mentioning of the case is set for June 12, 2023 when further directions will be issued.